Louis Andriessen is a Dutch composer and pianist based in Amsterdam and one of the most significant living composers as well as a renowned composition teacher. He is a lecturer at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague.
Andriessen originally studied with his father (the composer Hendrik Andriessen) and Kees van Baaren at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, before embarking upon two years of study with the renowned avant-garde Italian composer Luciano Berio in Milan and Berlin. He later joined the faculty of the Royal Conservatory. Now-celebrated composers from around the world have come to Holland to study with him.
Notable works include Workers Union (1975), a melodically indeterminate piece “for any loud sounding group of instruments”; Mausoleum (1979) for 2 baritones and large ensemble; De Materie (‘Matter’) (1984–88), a large four-part work for voices and ensemble.
In the 1990s, a fruitful collaboration with film director Peter Greenaway led to several works, including the films M is for Man, Music, Mozart; Rosa: The Death of a Composer; and the opera Writing to Vermeer.
Andriessen’s early works experimented with post war serialism, pastiche, and tape followed by a radically alternative musical aesthetic of his own. By 1963 he was working with graphic notation, as in the piano piece Registers, using a combination of elements to facilitate improvisation. Since the early 1970s he has refused to write for conventional symphony orchestras and has instead opted to write for his own instrumental combinations, often retaining some traditional orchestral instruments alongside electric guitars, basses, and percussion.
His more recent pieces combine influences of jazz, American minimalism, Igor Stravinsky and Claude Vivier in compositions full of propulsive energy, economy of material and distinctive sonorities that crystallise into large blocks of sound. De Staat (‘Republic’) (1972–76), for example (which earned Andriessen the coveted Kees van Baaren Prize) is influenced by the energy of Count Basie’s big band music and the repetition of Steve Reich, combined with bright, clashing dissonances.
He is known for his progressive political views including the following quote regarding access to resources and technique: “Many composers view the act of composing as, somehow, above social conditioning. I contest that. How you arrange your musical material, the techniques you use and the instruments you score for, are largely determined by your own social circumstances and listening experience, and the availability of financial support. I do agree, though, that abstract musical material – pitch, duration and rhythm – are beyond social conditioning: it is found in nature. However, the moment the musical material is ordered it becomes culture and hence a social entity.”
Composers who have studied with him speak of him with huge affection as well as admiration. Many speak of his talents as a ping-pong player and cook, as well as a composer.
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